Mortality is like a perpetual scenario of Adam and Eve: struggling to decide what to do to please God when it seems there is no easy way out. We must choose between hard decisions daily and deal with not being able to accomplish all we wanted to. It’s critical that as we make these choices; we pray daily for God to forgive us for not being able to do more. We recommit to make everything better and beg forgiveness for the status quo mess that we have made. In the status quo mess, we can’t always make the ‘what would Jesus do’ choice because Jesus wouldn’t have got himself into that mess in the first place! Of course in every scenario there is a good better and best way to handle things, and that is generally what we mean by ‘do what Jesus would do’, but my point is that sometimes there is no black and white answer.
Perhaps there is always a black and white answer, but it is sufficiently hidden to us so as to test us. What good is a test if the solution manual is always provided to the student? Why ask us to believe if God shows up every 5 minutes? Indeed, pre-mortality was the school, and mortality is the short placement exam! Though we think life is not fair and wonder how this life could be an eternal placement test, God designed the test, and we are getting EXACTLY what we want out of life. There are no coincidences, our small daily choices are perfectly reflected in our life circumstances, attitudes, etc. Truly at the judgement day, all will confess to God “thy judgments are just”. He will recognize fully well that he has given us billions of chances to show our true colors, and our true colors will show indeed!
Some hold that rather than a test, life is like a school, or an apprenticeship. This is a beautiful perspective which highlights the companionship of God, God’s desires for us to become like him, and the overall mercy and tutoring God includes in our mortal experience. But it remains true that based on our choices in this life, we will be placed in either the celestial terrestrial or telestial kingdom of glory. This being said, life is, among other things, a test.
Progress in the spirit world after this life isn’t an excuse to procrastinate preparations. Alma makes it clear that this life is the time to prepare to meet God, the time to perform our labors. The gospel teaching in the spirit world is focused on those who didn’t have the opportunity to receive it here. We won’t be perfect by the time we meet death, and we will have progress to make after death, but to think that a person walking south will turn around and walk north just because death has arrived is a sectarian notion rejected by the master. Yes Ecclesiastes speaks of being able to turn around until death, but the modern way this is depicted in many Christian religions is that an enemy to God can say on his deathbed that he is sorry, and somehow qualify for the great glories of God. For example, one Christian movie titled “God’s not Dead” features a devout atheist professor who spent his life tearing down faith. Near the end of the movie he gets hit by a car and while his lungs fill with blood he says in effect ‘I’m so scared, I’m an atheist. OK I accept Jesus’. Then the preacher rejoices and claims his soul saved. This is like spiritually debt reckless spending followed by declaring bankruptcy. Just because you filed for bankruptcy doesn’t mean you’re ‘saved’ You have lots to learn about financial/spiritual wisdom, you have not yet taken upon you the countenance of Christ in righteously governing that which has been appointed to you. The Book of Mormon clarifies the doctrine of repentance in showing that various atheists who are about to die yet confess on their deathbeds that they lived in sin, aren’t much better off than when they were living in sin. Life is about becoming something, and deathbed repentance is void of that. Jesus taught this succinctly when he said, “Not everyone that saith ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter into my kingdom.”
A discussion on deathbed repentance usually goes to the thief on the cross. Modern revelation has shown that a better translation of this passage is ‘this day thou shalt be with me in the world of spirits.’ This suggests that rather than jumping into the same celestial boat as Christ’s disciples, this man is going to a place where he can learn of the lesser portion of God’s glory, which is still available to him. That availability will not be the same as what is available for those who used their lives for good, who stopped doing bad things, and became descent people, regardless of how much they did or didn’t know about God. Everyone has the light of Christ from birth, sometimes called a conscience, and how we have listened to or rejected that light will be the key factor at judgement day.
Recall that hell is temporary, a place of refining for the wicked, so they can be painfully purged and go to live in the lowest kingdom of glory, called the telestial kingdom. It’s still a place of glory, but it’s nowhere near as glorious as the two higher kingdoms, namely the terrestrial and the celestial. Those who enter the telestial kingdom essentially qualified for that in the premortal existence.
The only permanent hell is the place where Lucifer himself lives, along with the 1/3 who openly rejected God’s plan while staring God in the face in premortality, and the small handful of people in this life who knowingly reject God to a similar level in this life. Such rejection is a deeper evil than murder etc., and is often referred to as ‘denying the Holy Ghost’. Jesus said that those in this category receive not forgiveness in this life, nor the life to come (Matt. 12:32). These people not only speak against Christ, they speak against all holy things, they love evil and hate good. For more scriptures about this group, see the LDS Guide to the Scriptures, topic of “Sons of Perdition” (at this link https://www.lds.org/scriptures/gs/sons-of-perdition?lang=eng). There is some information on this and other components of God’s plan found in the bible, but the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants have 100-fold information on these subjects.
Let us remember that Elder McConkie of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles taught in his discourse titled “The 7 Deadly Heresies” that if one rejects the missionaries in this life, they drop a kingdom, and can only qualify for the terrestrial in the life to come, not the celestial, notwithstanding work for the dead.
Perhaps some of our choices from where we stand can’t be perfect ones, but are simply the best given the circumstances. We do our best and beg forgiveness daily because we greatly need it daily. Never forget the holiness of god and the nothingness of man and the requirements of god upon man. Remember the angel that came to rebuke Joseph Smith for living beneath the expectations of God in his young trying days of getting the plates (actually all of his days were trying days) and think not that you are better than Joseph, that you are not worthy of rebuke. We are all worthy of rebuke. Our character lies in weather we stand up to it or run away from it in cowardice, hiding as it were under the rocks, kidding ourselves that judgement day will never come.
No one is exempt from some level of ambiguity in their day to day choices. God lets us chose. His will is sometimes our will. That’s what happened for Nephi (3rd Nephi). God told him ‘you figure it out I will back you wherever you go with this, let’s see what you’ve got kid. You can do it, I’ve been watching you. Stick around and check this out, you may even surprise yourself’.
Life is a pickle and who can get out? the answer is that no one can get out; the purpose of life is to see what you’re going to do when you’re in a pickle; we want to see what you do when there’s no right answer – what will you pick in the only options are to fail in one thing or two fail in something else. yes, you’ll see bits and pieces of success, and God will comfort you through your trials, but life IS a trial.
One good analogy of this is seen in Enders Game by Orson Scott Card, wherein Ender is judged not only based on what he did, but why he did it.
Another analogy to consider is the “Golden Parachute Clause” principle of corporate businesses. This is where a VIP employee is essentially considered to be so valuable, that he is allowed to make mistakes, even big mistakes, and not get fired. This doesn’t mean he comes out in forthright rebellion, no, he is always TRYING to make the right choice, it’s just that sometimes, he simply messes up. And when you’re in the driver’s seat and you mess up, consequences can be big. But he does so much good that it overwhelms the bad. The ripple effect of the good that he does is so much bigger than the ripple effect of the bad that he does, that the company would be at a great loss to get rid of him. In other words, the NET EFFECT you have on the world is GOOD. The end result of your presence on earth has been an overall increase in goodness, peace, prosperity, justice, mercy, love, etc.
One thing that need not be ambiguous is our testimony of Jesus Christ and his restored gospel. Some remain ambiguous in this, but there is a gift of the spirit of not just believing these things but knowing them. Seek that gift!
The D&C even goes so far as to say we should covet spiritual gifts!
“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” -Jesus Christ
“This is life eternal, to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent.” -Jesus Christ